Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World. 1st ed. 1. New York: Random House, 2000. 1-58. Print.

The apple.

Crispy,

Sweet,

Wholesome.

As Michael Pollan describes, our modern view of the apple is that it is pleasant, and quite popular, but relatively unimportant.  It simply makes a nice healthy snack.  Historically though the apple has held vast importance, particularly when America was first being settled by Europeans.

The apple began its life in America quite differently than we think of it today.  It was largely propagated by seeds, as the European cuttings wouldn’t take well due to differing climates.  Apple trees from seeds though do not follow in the roots of their parent trees.  An apple grown from seed can become almost any shape, size, or flavour.  The problem comes in because this new apple is very often not palatable.  So because these now popular fruits were not good for eating, what was left?  Alcohol.  Essentially the same stuff most of us drink regularly.  And because Alcohol is not always looked upon in a positive light, this led to the apple also being frowned upon.  The apple became the baby that was thrown out with the bathwater.  This image has changed numerous times over the years, due to advocacy groups, advertisement campaigns (“An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away!”), and even government regulation.

Pollan tells this story of the apple through relating it to stories of John Chapman, or Johnny Appleseed as you may know him.  The common story of Chapman as a frontier saint is, according to Pollan, perhaps a bit of a myth.  Chapman had numerous strange qualities and beliefs, including such tidbits of not grafting apple trees because it would harm the trees and having his heart broken by his 10 year old child bride.  This section provided an interesting read, but at the same time I felt that Pollan spent far too much time on Johnny Appleseed.  Perhaps it is my own lack of growing up with this figure, but dispelling common ideas and tracking the path that John Chapman took was a little more detail than I was interested in learning about him.

I do not think that the point of this look back into history is simply to know the history of the apple.  We can take a larger lesson from this story.  The changing identity of the apple as well as John Chapman tells us that history is actually very fluid.  We invent small truths and twist ideas constantly, and as time passes these small twists and turns can reinvent history.  Who is to say that the apple may not one day again be looked upon negatively.  Or even that our own lives could become a lesson for school children, regardless of our actions.  We enjoy thinking of our society as a rational, ordered place, but in fact we are mired in myth.  From the apple to the potato to the ‘yam’, what is truth?

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